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  • 26 October 2023
  • 9 min read

What mobile security threats pose a risk to your organisation?

Explore the various organisational mobile security threats faced today. From app vulnerabilities to human error, learn how to protect your company's data and devices.
FAQ Series What mobile security threats pose a risk to your organisation

As the boundaries between personal and professional life continue to blur, mobile devices have become indispensable tools for business operations. And yes, they offer unparalleled convenience, but mobile devices also present a myriad of cyber security risks that can have dire consequences for organisations.

In fact, not only do 54% of organisations feel that their mobile devices are less secure than other endpoints, but 62% of enterprises sacrifice mobile security for speed!

In this article, we'll explore the various mobile security threats and how attackers target corporate devices. We'll also discuss mobile device security policies and underscore the importance of training and awareness for employees.

The different types of mobile security threats

More than 60% of top IT decision-makers view mobile devices as a significant security risk to their organisation. Mobile devices, both personal and corporate, face numerous threats. Understanding these various categories of threats is critical to effectively safeguarding sensitive organisational data.

Let us dive into these distinct classes of mobile security threats:

1. Application Security Threats

Every day, over 24,000 fraudulent mobile applications are blocked. Application security threats are a widespread danger in the mobile landscape. 21% of enterprises who have been compromised said that a rogue or unapproved application had contributed to the cyber breach. Malicious apps, which often sneak past initial scrutiny, can wreak havoc once installed on a device. These apps might seem harmless but hide malicious intent. They are capable of data theft, device compromise, or serving as a launchpad for more extensive cyberattacks.

2. Web-Based Security Threats

Web-based security threats take advantage of widespread mobile browser use. Malicious sites target mobile browser weaknesses to spread malware, gather personal data, or trick users into unintended security breaches.

3. Network-Based Security Threats

Network-based threats target the infrastructure through which mobile devices connect to the internet. Weaknesses in wireless networks, especially unsecured public Wi-Fi, become fertile ground for attackers. Techniques such as network spoofing and Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks enable malicious actors to intercept and manipulate data, leading to eavesdropping and data theft.

4. Hardware-Based Security Threats

Mobile hardware vulnerabilities pose a distinct set of risks. Unauthorised alterations, such as jailbreaking and rooting, can compromise the integrity of the device's firmware, rendering it susceptible to malware and unauthorised access.

How threat actors attack corporate mobile devices

Understanding the tactics employed by threat actors is essential for safeguarding your organisation against mobile security threats:

1. Social Engineering/Phishing

Criminals skilfully exploit human psychology through social engineering tactics, tricking users into revealing sensitive information or performing actions against their better judgment. Phishing attacks often involve attackers masquerading as trusted entities, typically through deceptive emails, text messages, or calls, luring individuals into divulging confidential data. Most mobile device phishing occurs via SMS messaging, on social media platforms or via vishing, but email phishing still accounts for 15% of all phishing attacks on mobile. CSO argues that phishing attacks on mobile users are so prevalent because mobile users monitor and manage their emails in real-time, opening and actioning emails as they are received.

2. Mobile Ransomware

Mobile ransomware, a virulent form of malicious software, seizes control of a mobile device by encrypting its data. Attackers subsequently hold the device hostage and demand a ransom payment for the decryption key. This not only jeopardises data integrity but can also lead to financial ramifications for both individuals and organisations.

3. Data Leakage via Malicious Apps

Malicious apps disguise themselves as legitimate utilities, secretly extracting sensitive data from mobile devices. Often, users unknowingly install these rogue apps, putting their personal and organisational data at risk. This can lead to data breaches and compliance violations.

4. Unsecured Public Wi-Fi

Unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, frequently encountered while on the go, serve as breeding grounds for cyber threats. Opportunistic attackers may exploit the vulnerabilities in these networks to intercept and exfiltrate data transmitted over them, potentially granting access to confidential information.

5. End-to-End Encryption Gaps

The security of data transmission relies heavily on encryption. Weak or improperly configured encryption can expose data to interception by attackers, compromising the confidentiality and integrity of communications. Identifying and rectifying these encryption gaps is critical to data protection.

6. IoT Device Security

The Internet of Things (IoT) extends the attack surface for mobile security threats. Lax security on IoT devices can serve as entry points for attackers into corporate networks, leading to data breaches, network compromise, and potential disruption of critical services.

7. Jailbreaking and Rooting

When users engage in jailbreaking or rooting their devices, they intentionally circumvent manufacturer-imposed restrictions. While these actions may provide increased customisation, they often inadvertently introduce vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit, leaving the device susceptible to malware and unauthorised access.

8. Spyware

Spyware applications operate clandestinely on mobile devices, surreptitiously monitoring user activities. These malicious programs can secretly capture sensitive information, jeopardising privacy, and security. Rather alarmingly, MobileIron reveals that 31% of devices were found to be harbouring known threats like spyware without the user ever detecting them.

9. Network spoofing

Attackers employ network spoofing to impersonate trusted networks, leading unsuspecting users to connect to malicious imitations. By doing so, attackers can intercept and manipulate data, potentially granting access to sensitive information and compromising data integrity.

10. Weak password and multi-factor authentication (MFA) security

Poor password habits and lack of multi-factor authentication are prevalent issues. Data shows that 56% of employees don't use MFA or two-step verification on their workplace mobile devices. Simple passwords or no MFA can expose devices to unauthorised access, increasing the risk of data breaches and unauthorised account activity.

11. SIM Hijacking

Through SIM hijacking, attackers gain control of a victim's phone number, a critical component of multi-factor authentication. This can grant unauthorised access to sensitive accounts and data, as well as compromise security and privacy.

12. Stolen devices

In London, a mobile phone is stolen every 6 minutes and in 2022, the total value of stolen mobile phones sat at an eye-watering £48.4 million! Physical theft of mobile devices not only leads to the loss of valuable hardware but also exposes sensitive data and potentially allows unauthorised access to an organisation's resources.

13. Trojans and Financial Malware

Mobile devices, especially Android smartphones which face 95% of malware attacks, are vulnerable to trojans and financial malware. These malicious entities aim to steal banking details, endangering both personal and corporate financial resources. Alarmingly, 48% of companies observed malware introduction via an employee's phone.

14. Out-of-date software or OS

Neglecting to update mobile device software and the operating system results in vulnerabilities remaining unpatched. Attackers can exploit known vulnerabilities in out-of-date systems, leading to data breaches and potential disruption of operations.

Selecting the appropriate mobile device security policy

87% of organisations rely on their employees’ access to business applications on mobile phones. Choosing the most suitable mobile device security policy for your organisation is a pivotal decision, one that will profoundly impact the security posture and operational efficiency. There are three primary mobile security policies to consider, each with its unique advantages and disadvantages:

BYOD (Bring Your Device)

  • Pros: Embracing a Bring Your Own Device policy can be cost-effective, as it shifts the burden of purchasing and maintaining devices to employees. This explains why 59% of businesses have some kind of BYOD plan in place. This approach often boosts employee satisfaction, as it allows them to use their preferred devices for work.
  • Cons: The BYOD policy can be challenging to manage and secure. Balancing the need for data protection with employees' privacy and device freedom is a delicate task. The policy may expose the organisation to the risk of data leakage and may also complicate regulatory compliance efforts.

COPE (Company Owned, Personally Enabled)

  • Pros: The Company Owned, Personally Enabled policy provides enhanced control over devices and data. It allows organisations to centralise management, ensuring uniform security standards across all devices. This policy is particularly effective for ensuring that sensitive business information is kept secure.
  • Cons: While COPE offers robust security controls, it comes with a substantial financial investment. Organisations must purchase and maintain the devices for employees, which can be costly. Moreover, employees may perceive this policy as intrusive, potentially affecting job satisfaction.

CYOD (Choose Your Own Device)

  • Pros: The Choose Your Own Device policy strikes a balance between BYOD and COPE. It empowers employees to select a device from a pre-approved list, giving them some autonomy while maintaining a level of control for the organisation. This policy can enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.
  • Cons: CYOD may involve higher costs compared to BYOD since the organisation is responsible for acquiring and provisioning approved devices. However, this cost is often more manageable than full COPE. The challenge lies in defining the list of approved devices and ensuring compatibility with company systems.

59% of C-level security leaders say their business operates either partially or fully on mobile. Yet, astonishingly, 28% of CIOs report their organisation lacks a mobile strategy. The decision regarding which policy to implement is not one to be taken lightly. It should align with the organisation's specific needs, risk tolerance, and financial resources.

It is essential to consider the organisation's industry, regulatory requirements, and overall mobile device security strategy. Remember, policies can differ across the organisation. For instance, departments handling sensitive data might need stricter guidelines, while others could have more flexibility.

Ultimately, the right mobile device security policy should strike a balance between providing security and enabling employees to work effectively. It should also align with relevant regulations, ensure data privacy, and consider its effect on employee morale.

Why employee training and awareness are crucial for mobile security

Cyber security training initiatives serve as the front lines of defence against an ever-evolving array of threats. Let us look, in-depth, at why training and awareness are essential components of a robust mobile device security strategy.

Empowering Employees

Mobile device security training empowers employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to safeguard their devices and the data they access. It equips them to recognise the signs of potential threats, such as phishing attempts, malware, or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. An informed workforce can act as a collective shield, proactively identifying and thwarting security breaches.

Enhancing User Responsiveness

Awareness programs foster a culture of vigilance, ensuring that employees are not only aware of the potential risks but also responsive to them. When employees are well-informed about security best practices, they are more likely to react promptly to security incidents, preventing the escalation of threats.

Mitigating Human Error

Mobile security incidents often stem from human error. Employees may inadvertently click on a malicious link or download a harmful attachment. Training and awareness programs significantly reduce the occurrence of such errors by teaching employees to recognise potential pitfalls and act prudently.

Regulatory Compliance

Many industries are governed by stringent data protection regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or industry-specific standards. Compliance with these regulations is not optional but a legal obligation. Mobile security training ensures that employees understand their responsibilities regarding data protection, reducing the risk of non-compliance, legal repercussions, and potential fines.

Safeguarding Sensitive Data

As mobile devices often access and store sensitive organisational data, their security is paramount. Training and awareness programs instil the importance of data protection in employees' minds, encouraging them to handle sensitive information responsibly and securely, whether at rest or in transit.

Reducing Security Incidents

Investing in employee training and awareness significantly decreases the likelihood of security incidents. Well-informed employees are less likely to fall victim to phishing attacks, less likely to expose sensitive information, and less likely to engage in risky behaviours that could compromise the organisation's security.

Adaptation to Evolving Threats

New threat technology is always emerging, with cybercriminals devising new tactics and techniques. Unfortunately, 45% of enterprises said that their defences are falling behind attackers’ capabilities. Regularly updated training and awareness programs ensure that employees are well-prepared to confront emerging threats, providing an organisation with an agile defence against the latest cyber risks.

Fostering a Security-Conscious Culture

A security-conscious culture within an organisation is an invaluable asset. Training and awareness initiatives contribute to this culture by making security a part of the organisational ethos. When employees prioritise security as a fundamental component of their work, the entire organisation benefits from a heightened level of protection.

These training and awareness initiatives empower employees, reduce the risk of human error, ensure compliance with regulations, and mitigate security incidents. By fostering a security-conscious culture and adapting to evolving threats, organisations can significantly enhance their resilience against mobile security risks while maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of their data. As such, these programs should be prioritised and continually updated to meet the evolving challenges of the digital age.

At The Security Company, we specialise in boosting cyber awareness and tackling issues such as IoT device and mobile device security and awareness of potential risks and threats. Through our tailored subscription services, targeted and customised eLearning and awareness materials and our behavioural assessments, we're committed to helping organisations like yours instil long-term, security-conscious behaviours.

Our method is distinct. We begin by diving deep into your team's current mindset, pinpointing lax behaviours, security gaps and departments in need of focus and attention. From there, we craft tailored solutions that encourage better cyber practices from your employees. With comprehensive training and seamless integration into your current systems, we're here to fortify your team against modern cyber threats and be your trusted cyber security and awareness partner.

Ready to take the next step?

We can help you to formulate an effective and comprehensive cyber security training and awareness program for your organisation.

Do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

Written by
Nas Ali
Cyber security and awareness content creator focused on emerging threats and the next wave of cyber security risks like AI, deepfakes and tech 4.0 initiatives in order to build towards a more secure organisational culture.
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